Alexa Live 2021: Everything announced at the keynote

On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, was Amazon’s version of WWDC - their Alexa Live event for Amazon Alex developers. Amazon announced a series of new API's, updates, and features that will help developers leverage Alexa-powered devices to help brands and businesses grow, boost consumer engagement, and, overall, make customers lives easier and more efficient. 

Send To Phone

This new feature allows customers to start an experience on an Alexa device and continue this experience on their phone. By combining Quick Links and Send to Phone, customers can build experiences that involve both their Alexa device and mobile phone.

McDonald’s partnered with Vixen Labs to create an Alexa skill in the UK that makes getting a meal from McDonald’s easier than ever. The skill allows you to find the nearest McDonald’s restaurant, answers to frequently asked questions, and directions to the restaurant. The week’s top deal will also be played at the beginning of the skill. With Send To Phone, you can take those great deals presented on your Alexa device and have it sent to your phone.

Other brands such as Twitter, Iberia Airlines, Lysol and Coopad will be using Send to Phone.

Automatic Defect Correction

This feature gives customers the ability to directly teach Alexa a new skill. If a customer says “Alexa, set the living room light to study mode.” Alexa might respond, “I don’t know what study mode is. Can you please teach me?” Alexa will extract a definition from the customer's answer, and later when the customer makes a similar request Alexa will respond with a learned action.

Alexa Conversations

Alexa Conversations is a deep learning-based approach to dialog management to enable more conversational interactions. The team behind “Art Museum” found it faster and simpler to build a contest-winning experience using Alexa Conversations. Their skill helps customers explore the Art Institute of Chicago’s digital collection from home.

Amazon is expanding the availability of Alexa Conversations in beta in German, in all English locales, and a developer preview in Japan.

Skill Resumption

Skill resumption allows customers to easily return to a skill after a short break or even after using Alexa to complete a separate task. With skill resumption, customers can enable your skill to resume automatically when your Alexa skill has new information to provide. Cirrantic, an electric vehicle company, uses this feature to notify its customers of nearby EV charging stations. This allows the customer to know if a charger is available before reaching the station.

Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions

Event-Based Triggers are used when a customer enters a certain location or begin certain activities like walking, jogging, or driving. The skills use these triggers to give a proactive suggestion. An example of this in action would be a customer arriving at work and receives a proactive suggestion to mute their phone. Both Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions will be made available to developers later this year.

Whole Foods will be using these features for curbside pickup that will be launched later this year. You can place an order online at Whole Foods and when your order becomes ready while you are driving, the Whole Foods skill will detect the driving trigger and makes a suggestion you go to Whole Foods to pick up your order. When you are a few minutes away, the skill will inform the Whole Foods staff so they can bring your order out. When you park you can say Alexa I am in spot 42 and the staff will bring your order to you. This saves time and enhances customer experience.

Interactive Media Skill Components

The Interactive Media Skill Component will shorten the time it takes for Radio, Podcast & Music providers to launch interactive experiences on Alexa. Amazon is also launching the developer preview of the Song Request Skill Component. Alexa will now have a song request skill component that allows radio DJs to receive song requests from Alexa.

Listeners to iHeartRadio will soon be able request their favorite songs from their DJs using any Alexa-powered device. iHeartRadio believes that this new feature will allow their audience to talk back and influence what they hear on the radio.

Spotlight Feature on Amazon Music

Artists can directly engage with fans by uploading an existing recording or by creating one in the Amazon Music for Artist mobile app allowing them to engage with their fans either while being in the studio or on the road. By using Spotlight artists can promote new music or shine a light on their favorite creative process. Fans can listen either directly from Alexa or the Amazon Music App from artist profile pages.

Shared Activities API

With the Shared Activities API, you now have the ability to challenge your friends and family to beat your high score in a certain game or to have asynchronous multiplayer challenges with your friends. Game studios will be able to leverage the Shared Activity API and Alexa to bring friends together to share in their experiences.

Food Skill API

This new feature that will be coming later this year allows restaurants to create great food, delivery, and pickup experiences. It will also allow developers to build easy, high-accuracy experiences with improved discovery features. By using this API it will allow you to grab the customer’s attention by having the right offer at the right place and at the right time.

Domino’s Pizza will be using this skill to give customers the best experience. They believe it will help their customers discover the perfect dinner deal using only their voice. They say it is convenient and natural and will also make their skill more relevant when the customer wants to order a take-out.

Device Discovery

This feature will allow Alexa to discover devices that it is compatible with such as televisions and printers that are connected to the same network. It will make it easier for customers to engage with devices through Alexa and allow customers to make use of the device’s smart capabilities.

Alexa’s Replenishment Capabilities

Alexa already can reorder items such as batteries and printer ink. To further simplify customer’s lives Amazon is extending Alexa Replenishment Capabilities to replacement parts.

Brands such as Carrier and Resideo are using this feature to replenish air filters while Bissell is using it to replenish customer robot vacuum cleaners automatically.

Alexa Guard

Amazon is hoping to help U.S. customers make their homes even more secure. Customers will soon be able to connect to smart safety devices such as smoke, carbon monoxide, and water leak detectors with Alexa in order to better protect their homes. Whenever these smart safety devices detect an incident, Alexa Guard will send customers a Smart Alert notification to their phones. Kidde, Moen, First Alert, and YoSmart are already integrating their smart detectors with Alexa.

Find My API

Customers can now have Alexa assist them in finding things of value that they may have misplaced or lost. Customers will be able to use Alexa to find keys, wallets, or pets by simply saying “Alexa find my” or “Alexa ring my.” Tile, a leader in finding technology, locates up to 6 million misplaced items every day and integrated with Alexa Find My in 2020. Tile allows people to find their things by using a Tile tracker a Find With Tile partner product. Samsung and Remote+ will be adding Alexa Find My capabilities this year, 2021.

Featured Skill Cards

Echo Show home screen currently shows customers news, recipes, photos, and more. Developers will now be able to use Featured Skill Cards to promote their skills in the home screen rotation. Customers will be able to discover and interact with your skill directly from the Home screen so you can acquire and engage with customers. Whether you are a large brand or an individual developer, promotion on the home screen provides a meaningful opportunity to increase discovery, and deepen engagement.

APL Widgets

Widgets are customizable and glanceable views of your skill content which can be accessed from your home screen. APL Widgets allows customers to engage with content directly from the home screen and even to mark off items from their to-do list directly from the home screen. Widgets are self-updating and a customer can tap on a widget and go straight to the content your skill is offering. With the new Favorites Panel, skills are always accessible from the home screen.

Name Free Interaction (NFI)

The Name Free Interaction tool kit enables you to provide Alexa with signals about common requests that your skill can handle which makes it easier for customers to find and use it without having to remember your skill’s name. Using the NFI has shown to be a key tool to boost traffic. New features of the NFI toolkit include:

  • Skill Discovery through Popular Phrases You can have your skill suggested as one of Alexa’s responses to popular discovery phrases such as, “Alexa, tell me a story”, “Alexa, I need a workout”, or "Alexa, let’s play a game.” via voice and on-screen. This is a new way to get customers with highly relevant and real-time skill suggestions.
  • Personalized Skill Suggestions Amazon has added personalized skill suggestions to Name Free Interactions. This includes new skill affinity models and customer feedback mechanisms which are designed to make it easier for you to connect with customers that have shown interest in your skill or similar skills. An example of this is, a customer asks “Alexa how did the Nasdaq do today?” and Alexa will help route them by offering your skill with a prompt like “You’ve previously used the CNBC skill. Would you like to use it again?
  • Contextual Skill Experiences Customers can now use natural phrases to accomplish tasks across multiple skills to meet their desired goals. Customers don’t have to invoke each skill separately or even repeat the same information when talking to different skills. When users ask Alexa what happened today in history, Alexa will respond, and then ask if they would like to search for talks on history in the TED Talks skill. Alexa will then automatically pass the search topic “history” and deep link the customers into the skill.

Custom Tasks in Routines

Customers use Alexa Routines to simplify their everyday lives. Routines can help automate and bundle daily actions like “Alexa, start my day” or “Alexa, Good night” or “Alexa, (let’s) chill out.” Now, with Custom Tasks in Routines, a customer can customize routines to take them directly to what they love about your skill. A customer could make a Routine for “Alexa, what's happening today?” that will take them straight to Quotes, Business News, or Market Updates in their favorite News skill.

Paid Skills

Customers now only need to pay once to access content in your skill. This is more ideal for premium skills where a customer is likely to pay only once to unlock the core skill experience.

In-skill purchasing will be expanded internationally to India and Canada later in 2021.

Alexa Shopping Actions

This new feature allows you to create a shopping experience within the skill by recommending products from Amazon.com. Customers will be able to buy or add items to their cart without leaving the skills experience. Starfinder is a role-playing game on Alexa and is the first skill to integrate with Alexa Shopping Actions. Alexa Shopping Actions will be launched globally in the coming weeks.

Amazon Associates on Alexa

One of the largest affiliate marketing programs in the world, Amazon Associates, will now be on Alexa. You can now use your skill to recommend millions of products on Amazon.com using Shopping Actions and similarly to the Amazon Associates program you can earn a commission of up to 10% when a customer purchases the product.

Alexa Skills Design Guide

The new design guide has lessons learned from Amazon’s developers and the broader skills community as well as voice-first design mythology. They believe you will find the guide useful whether you’re new to designing skills or need help on more advanced cases.

Alexa Skills Components

These components give you reusable and compassable experiences that you can import into you’re your skill and customize however you want. Components such as Catalog search and refinement, Song Requests, Order Tracking, Scheduling, and buying items from Amazon. Each component uses the latest conversational AI, best practices, and multi-modal capabilities.

Alexa Entities

This new feature allows your skill to retrieve information from Alexa’s knowledge graph which means you no longer have to search for and manage your own catalog of knowledge.

Customized Pronunciation

A self-service tool that allows you to add custom pronunciations to rare words to your skill models. Examples, character names, game titles, and medicine names.

AI-Based Sample Utterance Recommendation Engine

The new feature uses grammar induction, sequence-to-sequence transformers, and data filtering to recommend utterances for your skills and save time.

Skill A/B Testing Service and Test Generation Tool

The Skill A/B Testing Service will allow you to perform A/B tests, make data-driven launch decisions and control the dial-up of new feature releases. The Test Generation Tool helps you build testing capabilities for consolidated batch testing. Amazon hopes that these features will help you iterate and publish skill updates more frequently.

AVS International Support

Amazon will be making it easier to sell Alexa-integrated devices starting with increased support for Alexa Voice Search (AVS). This service that allows you to directly integrate Alexa into devices will soon be available in over 25 countries and they are adding support for Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese.

Alexa Connect Kit (ACK)

Soon it will be possible to prototype and sell these devices outside of the US. You can simply purchase the Amazon-managed ACK hardware module and pay an upfront fee that will cover the use of the ACK cloud service for your product’s lifetime. Device makers such as Sharp, Globe Electric, and Vornado have leveraged this feature to satisfy customers and improve time to market in devices from microwaves, fans, and lamps. Amazon's ACK road map this year includes Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Australia.

Matter

Amazon has always believed in creating an open smart home environment. By supporting multiple smart home protocols, they make it easier for device makers and developers to collaborate with Alexa and create innovative solutions for their mutual customers. The goal of Matter is to make it easy for customers to know their smart home device will work with all major voice services. Matter will also make it easier for device makers to build a new smart home device. Most Echo and Echo Dot devices and all Echo Studio, Echo Flex, Echo Plus, and Echo Show devices will be upgraded to become compatible with Matter. These changes will allow Echo customers to easily set up and control Matter products with their Echo devices.

Voice Forward Account Linking and Voice Forward Consent

These new features make it easier for customers to connect their account on your system, or create a new one in your skill experience. Customers can share information from their Alexa voice profile, for example, name or phone number, this will reduce the need for customers to remember account credentials which means they will get into your skill experience faster.

Invoked Apps will be adding Voice Forward Account Linking to reengage customers between skill sessions, using the contact information customers share with them. They believe it will allow them to provide their customers with rich project announcements and tips to help them get the most out of Invoked Apps Alexa skills. Invoked Apps believes that they will be able to find authenticated customers between skills to provide an even more personalized value-added experience.

Amazon continues to invest in its developer community. The announcements shared at this years Alexa Live (2021) reflect that continued commitment and give developers the tools and resources they need to deliver engaging and innovative voice-first experiences that leverage everything the Amazon Echo line of devices and all that third-party, Alexa-powered products have to offer.

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